NORMAN, Okla. -- Every time he touches the football, Oklahoma fans hold their breath in anticipation.
Sooners running back Roy Finch was a huge part of the offense in OU's 41-25 win over Texas A&M at Owen Field on Saturday. Many OU fans got their wish of seeing the speedy back more as the sophomore finished with 26 carries for 99 yards and one touchdown along with four catches for 21 yards.
"Roy Finch was special," OU coach Bob Stoops said after his team improved to 8-1, 5-1 in Big 12 play.
Yet, it has been Finch's work Monday through Thursday which has made a huge difference. His practice habits and attention to detail have increased and so has his playing time.
Finch's emergence has come at the perfect time for the Sooners, who lost leading rusher Dominique Whaley for the season last weekend against Kansas State when he fractured his ankle.
"The last three weeks I feel like I'm improving every week," he said. "[Improving] on my pass protection and seeing the defense, making cuts and making my reads right. The more I play I have a better understanding of the game. You get comfortable playing and things start to slow down for you."
Finch has 48 carries for 265 yards and two touchdowns and has added 12 catches for 133 yards in Oklahoma's last three games. He had just 16 carries and seven receptions in OU's first five games.
With Whaley out, Finch appears ready to shoulder the load. There were questions about his durability at 5-foot-7 and 166 pounds, especially with his struggles with injuries during his freshman year in 2010.
He went a long way to answering those questions against Texas A&M.
"I wouldn't say every game [I'll have] 25-30 carries, but I feel like I can do it," Finch said. "Tonight, there was a call for us to run the ball, but I don't feel like it will be like that every game.
"If the coaches want to give me the ball, I have to be prepared and ready to go."
The diminutive but dynamic running back showed surprising toughness against the Aggies, running over defenders and darting through holes all while showing a willingness to put his head down and fight for a short gain.
"Roy is tough," Stoops said. "That guy is put together. He did a really good job."
Said Finch: "I felt like I was physical. There were a lot of times there was nothing there, and I had to stick my head down and drive the pile."
This season has been nothing like Finch expected. After being named a preseason All-Big 12 running back, expectations rose. Then he opened the season with a minimal role on the offense as he bounced back and forth between slot receiver and running back.
"It's been a roller coaster," Finch said. "Starting at the bottom early in the year, not getting a lot of playing time, then all of a sudden playing a key role in this offense.
"I'm taking full advantage of my opportunities and thank God for the opportunities I have."
When Sooners coaches talk about the running back, they talk about his talent and his effort to get better each day on the practice field and in meetings.
"Roy is a guy who has continued to grow in his role," OU offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. "Roy has competed at a high level lately, and he's practiced that way as well."
Continuing his renewed passion and intensity on the practice field will be the key for Finch down the stretch. Ultimately, it's his work ethic that will decide if his starring role in the offense continues.
"I want to work hard every week and not get complacent because I know how good I can be," Finch said. "I don't want to waste my talents, I want to get better every week and see where that takes me."
Brandon Chatmon covers University of Oklahoma sports and recruiting for SoonerNation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.